Daily cleanup of Kelowna's Leon Avenue homeless camp ruffles feathers on both sides - InfoNews

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Daily cleanup of Kelowna's Leon Avenue homeless camp ruffles feathers on both sides

The Downtown Kelowna Association's sidewalk sweeper has to wait for a reluctant camper to move his tent out of the way during the daily cleanup of the Leon Avenue tent city.
November 06, 2019 - 5:00 PM

At 9 a.m. every weekday morning there’s a friendly, yet hostile routine in the 200 block of Leon Avenue in downtown Kelowna.

That means some of the dozens of homeless people living in tents on the sidewalks pack up their stuff and politely move it onto the street so the sidewalks can be cleaned. Today, Nov. 6 was a regular street washing day.

It also means some of the homeless – one man in particular today - get riled up and swear at officials for hassling them for not moving quickly enough.

“This happens at 9 a.m. every day,” Bruce Griffin, a former street resident who got himself clean and no longer lives on Leon Avenue, said. “Some people don’t want to cooperate. Some want to assert themselves.”

Griffin comes down to visit his old street friends and helps them clear their tents away from the brooms and sidewalk-sized street sweeper.

There are well over a dozen RCMP, bylaw officers and Downtown Kelowna Association workers who clean garbage off the streets and carry abandoned goods and shopping carts over to a large trailer towed by a big pickup truck. Three days a week, the sweeper wets down the sidewalk for a deeper clean.

This was a typical day, Griffin said, with both the homeless people and “officials” offering a mix of being nice and nasty.

One camper, who didn't give his name, complained that he's ignored by most of the officials he talks to, accusing them of showing hostility towards him. Only a few will respond.

“I feel it’s harassment,” Genevive (who didn’t want to give her last name) told iNFOnews.ca. “But, I understand, we have to keep the street clean. It’s an every day thing for us. If you want to sleep in, you’re being bothered by people who are just doing their job. The city and bylaws and police are working with us the best they can.”

But, it’s a judgement call on what to take and what to leave behind. Dave Braun complained about having his shopping cart full of wire meant for resale thrown in with the other garbage.

“We spent all night stripping that wire down,” Braun said. “It was not stolen. So we went and got it back. These guys come along and tell you what you need. They take everything they can.”

That was a typical mix of responses from those living on the street – most of the authorities were seen as decent people doing their jobs and trying to be helpful but, the odd one is more aggressive and seem to be angry.

Then there were two Downtown Kelowna Association workers who helped a woman move her large tent off the sidewalk and held it back so it didn’t get hit by the street sweeper. Another worker came along at the end of the hour-long cleanup to politely let those standing in the street know that they were finished.

The woman who lives in this tent was slow in moving it off the sidewalk.
The woman who lives in this tent was slow in moving it off the sidewalk.

Downtown Kelowna Association workers helped drag it into the street.
Downtown Kelowna Association workers helped drag it into the street.

Then they held it safely out of the way of the sidewalk sweeper.
Then they held it safely out of the way of the sidewalk sweeper.

“You’re good to go,” he said. “Thank you.”

No one, however, held out any real hope that the situation will change any time soon.

One RCMP officer said it was a growing tent city.

“What we need is a mat program,” Mark Burley, executive director of the Downtown Kelowna Association said, using a common term for proposed emergency winter shelters. “Then these people will have a place to stay.”

An announcement was expected as early as this week on a new 40-bed winter shelter opening soon.

The question is, how many of the homeless would go there?

“No,” Braun said. “I like being independent. There are too many rules and regulations. Here, people respect you a little bit. You’re not in a building where they tell you to go to bed at 9 o’clock and watch you like you’re a little kid.”

“Absolutely, I would (go to a shelter),” Genevive said, although she also talked about it being a community on the street where people looked out for each other. She moved there with just a tent. Others provided her with blankets and sleeping mats. Men protect vulnerable women, she said, suggesting one of the nearby parking lots be opened up to tenters.

She, and a number of others, talked about two groups of people tenting on Leon Avenue. There are those who help each other out while others – sometimes transients – cause unspecified problems on the street, making them all look bad.

After the hour-long clean-up, the crews moved from the 200 block up to the 400 block of Leon Avenue where there were far fewer tents but the clean-up crews went through the same procedures of rousting out stragglers and washing down the sidewalks.

Job done on one side of Leon Avenue for this day.
Job done on one side of Leon Avenue for this day.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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